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Jane Anderson

2012 Study Finds Some Evidence for Corn Cross-Reactivity in Celiac

By April 16, 2013

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Although this study came out a year ago, I'm constantly being asked about it and what it might mean for people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity who also can't tolerate corn. So I think it's worth repeating the details of what it showed (and didn't show):

There's no question that many people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity also have issues with corn.

Some of the problem likely involves gluten cross-contamination in the corn (like all other grains, corn can be quite gluten-contaminated unless the growers and processors take specific steps to protect their crop from accidental contact with gluten).

However, a 2012 research study indicates that the immune systems of people with celiac disease may in fact react to corn in a way that's similar to how they react to gluten.

The study, published in the journal Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, looked at the amino acid sequences in corn and compared them to the sequences found in gluten molecule. The researchers found some similarities between the amino acid sequences in the two different grains.

Next, they performed a computer analysis to see if the corn amino acid sequences might bind to the IgA antibodies produced by the body when gluten is ingested. They found evidence that this might happen in people who carry either of the two "celiac disease genes," HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8.

This finding "may be of paramount clinical relevance," the authors concluded. "The use of maize [corn] in the formulation and preparation of gluten-free foods must be re-evaluated in some cases of celiac disease."

So does this mean that people with celiac disease should avoid corn as well as gluten grains? That's not clear -- the study itself is extremely preliminary and hasn't yet been duplicated by other researchers. But it definitely shows that it's at least possible (as many people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity have reported) to have a glutening-type reaction to corn.

However, if you already know you react to corn as well as to wheat, barley and rye, this study certainly gives you another reason to avoid it.

Keep up with the latest in the celiac disease/gluten sensitivity world -- sign up for my newsletter, connect with me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter - @AboutCeliac.

Photo Getty Images/Thomas Barwick

April 26, 2012 at 8:18 pm
(1) Lisa says:

OMG! This makes so much sense to me! I have celiac disease and I’ve been strictly gluten free for two and a half years, but I still notice that I have problems if I eat too much progressed foods. I can’t tolerate any gluten free cereals – boy do I miss them! :) I’ve been thinking that maybe I’m just super senstive, but the one ingredient that all of these processed foods have in them is corn!!! So, lately I’ve been wondering if I have a corn allergy. But now you’ve cleared this up even more for me -it just makes so much sense. Thank-you so much Jane for posting this! Just hearing about this makes me feel like I’m not going crazy after all. :)

April 26, 2012 at 11:24 pm
(2) Donnie says:

I have Celiac. And I have been allergic to corn all of my life. There are so many other people who are allergic to corn, and I know of a lot of Celiacs who can’t eat it without getting sick. It is not possible to avoid corn, because it is being dumped into almost all of the food supply, and a lot of non-food products. Worse yet, corn is not properly labeled to warn us, so we can avoid it. When used as processing and packaging aids, it is not labeled at all. So Celiacs will not be able to avoid corn, if it causes them to have symptoms. Corn allergens are being ignored, so there is no hope for proper labels on foods that contain it. Please keep us posted, if you get more info about corn gluten and Celiac.

April 27, 2012 at 12:17 pm
(3) Cathy says:

I have had Celiac Disease for 41 years and I have never had a problem with corn. Guess I am one of the lucky ones! I haven’t had a problem with rice or soy either, except for wild rice! I learned years ago to avoid wild rice, because every time I ate it, I had issues. I love “sticky” rice and I don’t have any issues with it either. When diagnosed with Celiac 41 years ago there was NO information except what I was given at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, a three page list of foods to avoid! Jane, it is really nice to have all the information you send out now, and I know it will make it much easier for those who have been recently diagnosed to adapt!! Thanks for all your hard work to inform our Celiac Community!!

April 29, 2012 at 6:11 pm
(4) Jimmy says:

I have Celiac , came to know about it six month ago , though going gluten free i improved but never to a point where i could say i am on right track .
Reading this i have left corn and last three days feel better , my brain fog is gone .
Thank You to about.com .
It is a great help.
I will update how i feel after 30 days .
Thank You

June 17, 2012 at 5:53 pm
(5) gretchen says:

if you are sensitive to corn has this affected your TtG levels?
I have a client who is really strict about what he eats yet his ttg numbers are elevated.

July 26, 2012 at 8:35 pm
(6) Diana says:

For anyone wanting to know where all the corn is hidden in their food, supplements and medications check out this link to the Corn Alllergens List which is very comprehensive.

November 15, 2012 at 1:54 am
(7) Susan says:

Thank you for the information. I have Celiac Disease and also an allergy to corn. The allergist told me that I could not eat fresh corn but cooked or processed corn was fine. I have a strong feeling that the allergist was wrong.

This past week, I had a colonoscopy and gastroscopy because I continue to have a problem with diarrhea even though I have followed a strict gluten-free diet for the past two years. After the procedures, my doctor told me that everything looked healthy however she took 10 biopsies just to make sure. To me, the good result says that I am eating something that is causing my problem.

For the most part, I eat whole foods only. However, because of the advise given to me by the allergist I have consumed gluten-free food that contains cornstarch. From now on, I will completely eliminate corn from my diet. I should know within days if it is my problem.

January 9, 2013 at 3:54 pm
(8) Ellen Rosendhal says:

I was diagnosed as celiac 4 years ago. Even with a careful gluten free diet, I still had watery stools every day. I stopped eating corn 10 days ago and have had no problems since. I am estatic about this discovery and hope other celiacs try the “corn” cure.

April 12, 2013 at 10:13 pm
(9) Pamela says:

Does anyone else notice that the increase in the rate of celiac disease/ gluten sensitivity (be it to wheat and/or corn) seems to coincide with the propagation of genetically modified grain/seed? Increasingly, genetically modified seed – some containing the DNA of animals and fish, are overtaking non-GMO crops. The largest producer of GM seed in the world is Monsanto. Did you know that Monsanto engineered seed with a built-in herbicide known commercially as Round-up? It was never tested on humans before being approved for use by the FDA. None of these seed are.

European countries have banned the use of Monsanto seed. Cases of non-GMO or organic farmers’ crops becoming contaminated by neighboring fields of Monsanto grains abound the US, Canada, India and other countries. Once cross-pollination occurs, an organic crop is contaminated, as is the soil its grown in. And folks, these compounds do not degrade or decompose – they are genetic.

The time has come to tell politicians that we are not test subjects. Currently, North Americans do not know they may be consuming GMO grains in the processed foods they buy. Powerful companies like Monsanto strong-arm farmers, silence their critics with threats of legal action, send powerful lobbyists to Washington, and make large donations to political campaigns.

We have the right to decide what we put into our bodies people! Let your politicians know that you want labeling of genetically modified food ingredients.

April 13, 2013 at 8:30 am
(10) remilda says:

Thank you . Im gluten sensitivity and have been gluten free for 1 year and still have problems I was told that was because the IBS but now I know is the corn for sure. Thank you

April 13, 2013 at 8:39 am
(11) Peg says:

Thanks for the information confirming what I had found by hit and miss. Even xanthan gum, which is derived from corn, can set off my symptoms, so I have to avoid even the good processed foods without cornstarch. I don’t think most of us are aware of xanthan gum’s source, so maybe someone still having a problem may be helped.

April 19, 2013 at 10:39 am
(12) Debbie says:

Xanthan gum is brutal on the gut for me… people please get a list of items that are made from corn…. all cheap soda has corn syrup, ketchup , white vinegar etc. we now know why Gluten free products are so expensive, they do not use corn for the most part except cereals maybe!

May 23, 2013 at 11:46 am
(13) Janice Elton says:

Anyone diagnosed with Celiac should talk with their doctor about having ALCAT blood testing done!! I was diagnosed with Celiac 3 years ago, and have done well, but have had continued problems that were worsening. My doctor just had me do the ALCAT test that can test over 300 different sensitivities, and the top sensitivity was corn, second was yeast. Just passing the information along, to help others further look into more answers and a better resolve to their problems. They have to also consider with corn anything containing corn starch, baking powder, sweeteners, ketchup; the list goes on…. Again: the MOST important rule is to “CHECK EVERY LABEL EVERY TIME” when you shop. The food manufacturers can change their ingredients at any time, without notice to consumers. Also, brand to brand variations of ingredients.
It is important that anyone dealing with gluten issues do as much homework, research, and foot work as possible, to help themselves. This is still a much in the air issue, and with the different theories, you just need to be willing to try to help yourself, as well as the support of your doctors. Be willing to share your findings with your doctor, so you can help them help you!! That is, if you really want to get better, and begin to heal. I wish you all much luck in your journey to better health.

August 22, 2013 at 2:45 pm
(14) J says:

What do Celiac’s do if they have to take medication? All medication has gluten in it and corn also?

August 22, 2013 at 7:34 pm
(15) celiacdisease says:

Not all medication has gluten and/or corn — some do and some don’t. Unfortunately, manufacturers aren’t required to label inert ingredients, though, so you’d need to call the manufacturer of your specific medication to ask what the binder materials are.

October 5, 2013 at 7:05 pm
(16) Helene C says:

Although I don’t have celiac, I can’t ingest anything which has come in contact with gluten. And about 4-5 yrs ago, I noticed I couldn’t have yellow corn without severe abdominal bloating/cramping. And now, even the blue corn is doing that, so I cut that out too about 1 1/2 yrs ago. Being vegan, gluten free, soy free, nut free and now corn free can get pretty difficult, but it’s easily doable at home. Travelling, on the other hand, requires “camping-like” preparation…

October 10, 2013 at 3:45 pm
(17) Liana says:

I have been diagnosed with Celiac for 7 years and have been totally gluten free. recently I have noticed that I cant tolerate any corn of any kind. I am so glad to see this page. Now I know that I am not crazy. But I can’t seem to find hardly any food that I can have. Anyone have any suggestions? I sure would appreciate it

March 22, 2014 at 11:17 am
(18) Dawn says:

WOW! Seems we are all having the same reactions from Celiac to corn to yeast. It is difficult to share this information among family and friends because if they don’t experience it, they have no idea how we feel, and we need to understand that. Yet we feel like we may be crazy. However, after several “trial & errors” I’m sure we all know we are on the right track. Even after testing, I still have no “official” diagnosis. But trial and error has shown me that I am a true Celiac and not just “intolerant”, as I’m sure many of you are. And when you top this with Autoimmune Disease…..what a compounded life we now have to live. It’s not fun to start with but as time goes on it becomes our way of life and let’s face it, we do eat MUCH healthier. KUDOS to Jane for her time spent in research and forwarding info so we can learn so much more and use it to our benefit. THANK YOU!!

March 22, 2014 at 2:18 pm
(19) celiacdisease says:

@Dawn: You’re very, very welcome :) This issue of corn reactivity is one I intend to investigate much more — it’s such a huge problem in our community.


March 23, 2014 at 2:42 am
(20) Ouch! says:

If corn isn’t gluten free, what is then gluten free? I thought that in corn isn’t gluten as it is very different plant than wheat, barley and rye and has naturally grown on completely different part of the world (America, for difference from wheat, barley and rye, which were first cultivated in Middle East) and corn can’t be genetically the same as wheat, barley and rye… I thought that corn is neither a cereal as it isn’t trully a grass but rather a bamboo like plant…

March 26, 2014 at 7:23 am
(21) Julia Minnigh says:

I have found this website to be so helpful. I went gluten free in Dec 2012 and my symptoms were gone within a week. I was elated. But several months later I started having a recurrence of some of the symptoms. Last month I went to an allergist and was tested for food and environmental allergies. I was disturbed to learn that I was allergic to corn, beef, chicken, and eggs among other things. I suspect the beef/chicken/egg may be related to being corn fed. I will try grass fed beef and free-range chicken at some point but this is so new to me I am still trying to get my head wrapped around it. I have been sick lately and taking Tylenol for my fever and started having symptoms. In researching online I learned that Tylenol and most medicines/vitamins contain corn derivatives as binders. Even my herbal tea appears to have corn hidden in it. I’m feeling very overwhelmed by all this but will find my way. Thank you for posting this information which is so valuable and validating that it’s not all in my head.

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